The upcoming presidential election pits Republican John McCain against Democrat Barack Obama. While many have strong opinions about both of them, this is a sports site first, and we're going to look at what's REALLY important (ok, not really).
Neither candidate is the next Gerald Ford, by any means. But both are somewhat athletically inclined, and if elected, would join the long list of Presidents who have had a history of athletic accomplishment. McCain boxed as a lightweight during his days at the Naval Academy. Those days were years ago, though, and although he looks like he has a strong chin (or at least a hell of a wide jaw), McCain's athletic days have long since passed.
Barack Obama, on the other hand, is still pretty decent the basketball court. He played for his varsity team in high school, as you can see in the video below.
Unfortunately for Barack, his bowling skills aren't exactly up to par. He wasn't even able to bowl his age, as he shot a terrible 37. You can see the results here.
Who will McCain or Obama have to measure up to? Here are a few who were not only accomplished politicians, but also had some athletic skills as well.
John F. Kennedy
Everyone knows about the Kennedy family touch football games. But unlike some of his other family members, that wasn't his only athletic accomplishment. JFK played football, golf, tennis and basketball in high school. When he went on to Harvard, he tried to play football, but was only able to make the junior varsity team. He was also a member of the JV golf team. He was, however, able to make the swim team. This came in handy later on in life, when he saved the lives of his fellow passengers when their torpedo boat crashed. He reportedly towed one of his shipmates over 3 miles with a makeshift rope that he held between his teeth. Impressive.
Carter was a pretty good basketball player when he attended Plains High School in Georgia. After moving on to the Naval Academy, Carter ran for the cross country team. He continued his running habit after he was elected, and also arranged softball games between him and his secret service and the members of the media. He liked pitching, and when you're the President, you're pretty much allowed to pick your position. Way to go, Jimmy.
He wasn't the most ethical president, and he wasn't the most athletic. But he wasn't completely incompetent on the football field. He made the team at Whittier College, although he rarely got any playing time. Once he moved into the White House, he used the infamous basement bowling alley whenever possible. He was also an avid golfer.
Wilson played baseball back when Ivy League schools had good athletic programs. So even though he had played center field for Davidson, he was unable to make the team when he transferred to Princeton. Instead, he became the assistant manager, a popular position for guys who aren't quite good enough to make the team. Once he became president, his passion became golf. He even practiced in the snow. He made his staff paint his golf balls black, so he could find them in the snow.
George W. Bush
The younger Bush was no match for his more athletically inclined father, but he does have one advantage over other presidents. "W" has thrown out 9 ceremonial first pitches at MLB games, more than any other president. He works out at every possible opportunity at the White House gym, and he can bench press 185 pounds 5 times. That's 5 more than NBA player Kevin Durant was able to do at the NBA Draft Camp. President Bush was once on the cover of Runner's World magazine, and even ran in a marathon. He played one season for Yale's freshman baseball team, but eventually quit to join the cheerleading team. I'm not going to get into my opinions of cheerleading, especially men who participate in it, but it's athletic... right?
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Ike played football at Army, and was nicknamed "The Kansas Cyclone" for his exploits on the field. One of his biggest highlights was a 70-yard TD run against Yale in 1912. Eisenhower was also a good defensive player, but in a game against the Carlisle Indian School, he injured his knee trying to tackle the legendary Jim Thorpe, and it essentially ended his career. He also played baseball in high school, but to his great disappointment, was unable to make the team at Army.
Teddy Roosevelt was probably the first president ever to train in mixed martial arts. He was an avid boxer, to say the least. Not only was he on the Harvard boxing team, he even went so far as to challenge foreign heads of state to boxing matches at the White House. If that's not diplomacy at its finest, I don't know what is. But boxing wasn't Teddy's only passion. He definitely had aspirations of becoming an ultimate fighter, as he also practiced wrestling an jiu jitsu. Seriously. Roosevelt's other athletic hobbies included tennis, horseback riding, walking, hunting and horseback riding. His boxing career took a big hit in 1908 when he suffered from a detached retina, which resulted in blindness in that eye. While it slowed him down a bit, he was still known to jump in the ring once in a while anyway, despite the slight disadvantage. Teddy was a true badass.
Aside from when he played the title role in "Knute Rockne All American", Reagan had a pretty impressive history in athletics. When he was a teenager, he was a lifeguard at Rock River in Dixon, Illinois. I'm not sure if Rock River was a dangerous place, or if it was just a haven for terrible swimmers, but Reagan supposedly saved 77 lives during his time there. He eventually went to Eureka College on a football scholarship, and also participated on the swim team, which he coached in his senior year. His involvement in sports went beyond playing, as he also was a radio announcer for the Chicago Cubs, as well as University of Iowa football.
George Herbert Walker Bush
Bush Senior was actually a legend back in his college days. He led Yale to two straight College World Series finals, where they lost to Cal in 1947, and then USC in 1948. George H. W. Bush had a very impressive .354 batting average, with 2 HR and 23 RBI as a slap-hitting 2nd baseman. He was the team captain during his senior year.
Not many people credit George Washington with great athleticism, but the Father of Our Country had the original "Laser Rocket Arm". Supposedly, he threw a rock from a stream to the top of the Natural Bridge in Virginia. Another story credits him with throwing a silver dollar-sized piece of slate across the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg. Other men tried, and were never able to match the feat, although Washington was said to have cleared it by 30 feet. Famous artist Norman Vincent Peale once told a story about when a group of soldiers were visiting Mount Vernon, and were seeing who could throw an iron bar the farthest. Without even taking off his coat, then-Colonel Washington threw it past any of their best tosses. At that point, he told the men "When you beat my pitch, young gentlemen, I'll try again." His right arm wasn't his only claim to fame, as he reportedly took on one of the strongest men in Virginia in a wrestling man. After the match, the man was left only to say "In Washington's lion-like grasp I became powerless, and was hurled to the ground with a force that seemed to jar the very marrow in my bones." George Washington was undoubtedly a beast.
Although he was never actually elected President, Gerald Ford was definitely the best athlete out of all the presidents. He may not have possessed George Washington's laser rocket arm, or the ability to hit a baseball like Senior Bush, but he was an All-American center and linebacker at the University of Michigan, where the Wolverines had undefeated seasons and won national championships in 1932 and 1933. He was the captain in 1934. After his collegiate career was over, he received contract offers from the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers, which he declined, in favor of pursuing his law degree at Yale. Ford later became an avid golfer, playing in many pro-am tournaments sponsored by the PGA.
Special thanks to:
America's Most Athletic Presidents [Rumors And Rants]
Washington And The Athlete [Apples 4 The Teacher]
Top 10 Most Athletic Presidents [The Love Of Sports]
A Survey Of America's President-Athletes [The Cornell Daily Sun]